Operation Kitten Socialization

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For the next couple of months I will be fostering two orphaned kittens. They’re four to five weeks old now, and will be adoptable at 12 weeks. Their history up to this point is somewhat unclear. I don’t know exactly when they lost their mom, but for now they’re healthy, and learning about all sorts of fun new things.

I’m calling them Henry and Jane. Henry is black and white, and is the more playful of the two. He’s very brave when it comes to exploring on his own, but not so brave when it comes to meeting people and animals. Jane is almost completely black with just a tiny patch of white hairs on her chest. She is very brave about meeting new people and animals, especially my dogs, but is a little less of an explorer and likes to stick pretty close to home.

Most people don’t really think to socialize a kitten when they bring one home. The word is getting out about puppies, but kittens still miss out on a lot of pretty critical things. Many cats only get out to go to the vet, or they don’t get out at all. Most cats don’t get to see the veterinarian nearly as often as dogs do, despite having similar health concerns.

Most people would never even think to take their kitten to a socialization class. Perhaps the two are connected? A cat with little socialization and no training is often difficult to catch and put in a carrier, terribly worried about car rides, and difficult to handle at the vet. It is likely that both difficulty and embarrassment may play some sort of role in cats making fewer visits to the vet.

The first thing I did for Henry and Jane (after providing food, water, and a litter box) was start to enrich their environment. They got toys, but also things to climb over, under and through, things that make noise, things to scratch, and all different types of surfaces to try walking on. Environmental enrichment not only prevents boredom and the unwanted behaviors associated with boredom, but can help animals cope better with change and stress later on in life.

I will continue to introduce new toys, new surfaces, new sounds, and other new environmental changes to the kittens as long as they stay with me. They’ll even be introduced to many different types of kitty litter so that they can easily adapt to whatever their new families use when they go to their new homes.

In the short time I’ve had Henry and Jane they’ve already come a long way. The first day or two they were really quite cautious of people, now they’re more curious than scared. Part of making people positive for the kittens is hand feeding. At their young age, the kittens still aren’t quite ready for hard food, but mixing a little bit of canned food and kitten formula makes hand feeding with a syringe easy.

People who are new to the kittens will be encouraged to give them a little treat, especially as they’re holding or handling them. I’m lucky that I work in a veterinary clinic as the kittens can come to work with me and there are a lot of people willing to help with their socialization to people and handling. If you’re not lucky enough to be able to take your kitten to work, even occasionally, invite people over, ask if your kitten can come along, even if they have to stay in the carrier when you’re visiting others.

Trips to work also mean chances to get in the carrier and ride in the car. Many cats struggle with both of these things, as they often mean that something “bad” is going to happen to them. We can’t explain to our cats that the trip to the vet or groomer is for their own good, and will help them feel better or stay healthy. So often all they know is that they go to a scary place, where scary people do scary or even painful things to them.

We expect a lot of our pets, but when you think about it it’s really no wonder that many of them have the struggles that they do. Practicing car rides, and just for fun visits to the vet will help your cat stay happy and well adjusted throughout his or her lifetime.

Now is also a great time to start training with Henry and Jane! If most people don’t think about socializing their kittens, even fewer think about training. We’re starting with teaching the kittens to come when called. Since many people change the name of an animal they adopt, I’m using “kitty kitty kitty.” The kittens are already responding very well.

An easy way to begin this training is to call “kitty kitty kitty” every time you feed your kitten or cat. You can do the same thing outside of feeding time, just offer a treat or a chance to play instead of a meal.

I’m having all sorts of fun with these little babies at home. It’s a good review even for a trainer and experienced cat person to have kittens around to socialize and train. Find out more about our adventures in the coming weeks. These sweet babies will be available for adoption in a couple of months so they get the full benefit of each other’s company.

If you are interested in adopting one of them you can email me at browndogcabt@gmail.com for an application. There will be a small adoption fee to help cover the cost of the kitten’s care and indoor only (or indoor with safe outdoor access) homes are preferred. The kittens will be current on their vaccinations and will be microchipped before they’re placed in their new homes.